GREENSBORO, N.C. — Dez Wells waited against a white wall in a hallway outside the Maryland locker room, a backpack slung over his shoulders and a crushed look in his eyes. When Coach Mark Turgeon finally emerged, just as beaten down as his star player, Wells slung his left arm around his coach and patted his back. Then they walked away together, out of the building and the ACC.
Moments earlier, Wells had slapped the Greensboro Coliseum court with both hands and screamed in fury as he moved through the tunnel, trying to leave without joining the handshake line. He was ultimately ushered back, left to digest more heartbreak, the kind that has defined his team’s disappointing season. The eighth-seeded Terrapins were hoping for a miracle that could end their prolonged NCAA tournament drought. Instead, after Boris Bojanovsky’s dunk with 0.4 seconds left sent ninth-seeded Florida State to a 67-65 win in the second round of the ACC tournament, they left stunned.
“We had enough to win the game,” Turgeon said later. “We just came up a possession short again.”
That final sequence, when Maryland double-teamed forward Okaro White, stripped the ball loose and watched it bounce into Bojanovsky’s hands, epitomized its swan song in this conference, in which each game seemed defined by the moments when almost wasn’t enough. Turgeon lauded his team’s defensive effort on that play, saying it was “guarded the right way,” though that made the aftermath all the more bitter.
Juxtaposed with their penultimate ACC tournament, when Wells carried the Terps into the semifinals and stocked momentum for a deep run in the National Invitation Tournament, Wednesday afternoon could not have been more different. The locker room was filled with hanging heads and red eyes. John Auslander, the team’s lone senior, was alone in a corner. They had dedicated this week to Zach Lederer, their former student manager who died of brain cancer one day before they flew south. Point guard Seth Allen scribbled his initials on his sneaker and felt Lederer’s memory could carry them to a miracle. And yet here they sat, again in disbelief.
“It’s been such a long season,” center Shaq Cleare said. “I felt like nothing ever went our way this whole year. Not to make excuses, but I think we have to blame ourselves as individuals.”
Before tip-off, forward Evan Smotrycz was ruled out with lower back spasms. They had surfaced during Sunday’s upset of then-No. 5 Virginia, and he didn’t practice this week. Pair that with Charles Mitchell’s dislocated left pinkie, suffered midway through the second half during a pivotal stretch that kept him out until the final few possessions, and the Terps (17-15) had plenty of chances to deflect guilt.
Florida State (19-12), meanwhile, got a career effort from Bojanovsky, who took advantage of a thin Maryland interior to score 12 points and grab 10 rebounds. The lanky center hit two key free throws that Wells (game-high-tying 18 points) soon answered to tie the game at 65. When time still remained after Bojanovsky’s dunk, Wells attempted a desperation heave that fell short.
“I am never out of any fight. We are never out of any point,” Wells said. “So when it didn’t go in, my heart dropped. That’s the nature of basketball. You can fight as hard as you want to, and sometimes you learn lessons the hard way like we did today.”
The drama in the moment relegated Maryland’s ACC exit to a footnote because Turgeon said honoring Lederer with a win meant far more to his players than conference realignment. Allen was gassed but scored 18 points. Jake Layman missed all six of his three-point attempts after halftime but finished with 15.
Later, Turgeon was asked about the NIT. Maryland will learn its fate Sunday, when a fourth straight NCAA tournament field will be selected without the Terps. Like last season, they may be able to salvage something from the regret. But not quite yet.
“I’m numb right now,” Turgeon said. “So ask me in a day or two.”